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October 10, 2023

10 Reasons You Can & Can’t Terminate Pregnant Employees in California

Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA

Short answer: You cannot fire an employee just because they are pregnant in California.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) are two examples of legislation that provides legal protection to pregnant employees throughout the state.

Under these laws, pregnant workers in California cannot be discriminated against in the workplace, demoted, or treated unfairly due to their pregnancy. Regrettably, a high percentage of pregnancy discrimination cases in California result in job termination. Here, we outline 10 reasons why you can and cannot be terminated while pregnant and employed in California.

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5 Reasons a Pregnant Employee Can be Terminated

While pregnant employees have legal protections in place to prevent discrimination and wrongful termination, there are still circumstances in which they can be terminated in California:

  • Performance Issues: A pregnant employee can be terminated for valid performance-related reasons, such as poor job performance or violations of company policies unrelated to their pregnancy.
  • Business Closure: If an employer needs to close their business or downsize, they can terminate employees, including pregnant ones, due to economic reasons as long as it’s not a pretext for pregnancy discrimination.
  • Small Business Exemption: In California, small businesses with less than 15 employees are exempt from certain anti-discrimination laws. If the employer is a small business owner with fewer than 15 employees, they withhold the legal right to terminate any employee, including one who is pregnant.
  • Exhaustion of Pregnancy Disability Leave: While pregnant employees are entitled to Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), if they have exhausted this leave and cannot perform their job due to ongoing health issues related to pregnancy, the employer may have grounds for termination.
  • End of Employment Contract: If a pregnant employee is on a fixed-term contract, their employment may end when the contract expires, provided it’s not a pretext for pregnancy discrimination.

Although these reasons can lead to termination, employers must be careful not to use them as a cover for pregnancy discrimination. Pregnant employees still retain rights and can seek legal recourse if they believe they were unjustly terminated due to their pregnancy status.

5 Reasons a Pregnant Employee CANNOT be Terminated

Pregnant employees have legal protections in place to prevent unjust termination in California. Here are five reasons why a pregnant employee cannot be terminated:

  • Pregnancy Discrimination Laws: Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against pregnant employees. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) at the federal level and the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) make it illegal to terminate an employee based on their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL): California provides pregnant employees with up to four months of unpaid Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL). During this period, employers cannot terminate an employee solely because of their pregnancy-related health condition. This leave is meant to allow pregnant employees to recover from medical issues related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Reasonable Accommodations: Under FEHA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, such as modified work duties or temporary transfers, to ensure they can continue working safely during pregnancy. Firing an employee without considering reasonable accommodations may be unlawful.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child and related reasons, ensuring job protection during maternity leave.
  • Retaliation Prohibition: It is illegal to terminate a pregnant employee in retaliation for asserting their rights. If a pregnant employee files a complaint, requests accommodations, or takes pregnancy-related leave, any adverse employment action taken against them shortly afterward may be considered retaliation under law.

Both employers and employees should be aware of these legal protections to ensure fair treatment and a safe working environment for pregnant individuals in California.

Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees

Pregnant employees in the United States are protected by a range of federal and state laws to ensure their rights and well-being in the workplace. Here are key federal and state laws that safeguard pregnant employees in the workplace:

  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): This federal law, enacted as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It covers employers with 15 or more employees and mandates equal treatment of pregnant employees in terms of hiring, promotions, and workplace conditions.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, including the birth or adoption of a child. It applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
  • California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA): California law offers additional protections to pregnant employees. FEHA prohibits discrimination against pregnant workers, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, and guarantees up to four months of Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) for health conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA): This federal law, enacted in 2023, further strengthens protections for pregnant employees nationwide. It ensures that pregnant workers can request reasonable accommodations and requires employers to engage in an interactive process to find appropriate accommodations.
  • Federal and State OSHA Regulations: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations at the federal and state levels require employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace, including accommodations for pregnant employees to protect their health.

These laws collectively ensure that pregnant employees have the right to work without discrimination, receive necessary accommodations, and take leave for pregnancy-related conditions.

When Can a Pregnant Employee be Legally Terminated?

In California, the termination of a pregnant employee due to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical conditions is legally prohibited. To understand the circumstances when a pregnant employee can be legally terminated in California, consider the following key points:

  • Pregnancy Discrimination: California law, specifically the California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA), offers robust protection against terminating employees on the grounds of pregnancy or related medical conditions. This legal safeguard ensures that pregnant employees cannot be terminated solely because they are pregnant. There are certain instances where pregnant employees can be legally terminated such as if a pregnant employee was hired for a temporary or seasonal position- their employment can legally end when the agreed-upon period concludes, provided it is not pregnancy-related.
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL): California mandates that employers with five or more employees must grant up to four months of “pregnancy disability leave” (PDL) to pregnant employees. PDL is designed to address health conditions associated with pregnancy, childbirth, or post-pregnancy recovery. Consequently, terminating a pregnant employee during this PDL period is typically prohibited. An employer may have grounds for termination if an employee has exhausted their PDL leave and cannot perform their job due to ongoing health issues related to a pregnancy.
  • Reasonable Accommodations: Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. These accommodations may involve modifying job duties or the work environment to enable pregnant employees to perform their tasks effectively. If a pregnant employee consistently performs poorly or violates workplace policies or conduct codes despite reasonable accommodations, they can be terminated. In such cases, the termination is not directly related to pregnancy but rather job performance.

California law offers comprehensive protection to pregnant employees, making it unlawful to terminate them based solely on their pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical conditions. This legal framework ensures that pregnant workers are treated fairly and without discrimination in the workplace.

getting fired while pregnant

What You Can Do if You Were Unjustly Terminated While Pregnant

If you believe you were unjustly terminated from your place of employment while pregnant in California, you have legal options to protect your rights and seek recourse. Here are some steps you should take if you feel that you were unjustly terminated due to your pregnancy:

  1. Consult an Attorney: We recommend consulting with a pregnancy discrimination attorney. They can provide legal advice tailored to your situation and guide you through the process.
  2. Document Everything: Gather and document any evidence related to your termination, such as emails, texts, performance reviews, or witness statements that support your claim of unjust termination due to pregnancy.
  3. File a Formal Complaint: In California, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the federal level. These agencies handle discrimination claims, including pregnancy discrimination.
  4. Obtain a “Right to Sue” Letter: To initiate a lawsuit, you must typically obtain a “Right to Sue” letter from either the DFEH or EEOC after they investigate your complaint. This letter gives you the legal right to sue your employer for pregnancy discrimination.
  5. Consider Legal Action: With the “Right to Sue” letter, you can pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit against your former employer. Your attorney will guide you through the legal process, and you may seek remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, damages, and attorney’s fees if you prevail in court.
  6. Understand Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with California’s pregnancy discrimination laws, which protect your rights as a pregnant employee. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against you based on your pregnancy or related medical conditions.

We highly encourage you to act promptly and seek legal advice to protect your rights if you believe you were unjustly fired while pregnant in California. An experienced attorney can offer valuable guidance for your case’s best course of action.

Get connected with an Attorney

If you are seeking legal assistance for a pregnancy discrimination case in California, LawLinq is here to help. With our extensive network of experienced attorneys across California, we can match you with a qualified attorney who specializes in your area of concern. No matter your employment or pregnancy discrimination concern, we have you covered.

Using LawLinq is simple. Just reach out to us, and we’ll connect you with a knowledgeable attorney who can provide the guidance and representation you need. Our goal is to make the process of finding legal help as convenient and efficient as possible. Let LawLinq connect you with an experienced attorney who can skillfully protect your rights and interests, at no cost or obligation. Contact us today to get started.

About the Author

Jessica Anvar

California Consumer Litigation Attorney Jessica Anvar, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Partner of Lemon Law Experts California’s leading lemon law firm. She has multiple years’ worth of experience working with both state and federal lemon laws. Her practice focuses exclusively on consumer protection cases. Ms. Anvar received her J.D. from Loyola Law School. She also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola Marymount University. Jessica is very active in her local legal community and has helped thousands of clients across the state of California. She has an outstanding record as a true advocate for consumers.

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